Need some commuter cycling inspiration for the new year? Meet Rory Short: a 75-year old retiree cyclist, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, who credits his electronic tricycle with keeping him mobile and independent despite many life challenges along the way. If Rory can just get on his bike, so can you.
Q: Tell us about how you first got into cycling in Johannesburg?
Deeply concerned about the environment in the 70’s and bodily health I resumed cycling to work which I had done in London for 3 years in the 60‘s. Living in Greenside and working in Braamfontein I used to cycle to work every day. Part of my commute was along Loch Avenue. Late one afternoon, as I was cycling down Loch Avenue after work, a motorist turned across me. I saw that the car was turning and breaking managed not to collide with it but came off my bike and hit the road with my head and right shoulder. Luckily my crash helmet saved my head but the ligaments in my right shoulder were permanently severed by the impact. This was my third and most severe cycling accident whilst commuting and I decided that Jozi was clearly not safe for cycling so I stopped.
In the 70‘s I was not aware of any cycling advocacy group in Jozi, although of course there may have been one, and anyway I was more focused on anti-Apartheid activities at the time but was nevertheless highly aware that such a group was needed. Recently I turned to the web to see if there was such a group in existence now and there was, JUCA.
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis [MS] at the beginning of 1992 and because of MS damage to the optic nerve of my right eye had to stop driving and rely on friends and public transport for mobility. Through working on myself both physiologically [diet and Iyengar yoga] and psycho-emotionally [Life Training, now known as More to Life, Quakerism and Buddhism] after many years I feel as though I have largely overcome the psycho-emotional drivers of my MS and my thoughts, not without trepidation I must say, turned to cycling as a way to regain some personal mobility. Although I can still walk the MS damage to the nerves in my legs means that the muscles do not have much staying power so unassisted cycling is not really an option for me but luckily for me the advent of electric bikes eliminates that problem and I have purchased a electric trike from Eezebike.
Q: What are your most common cycling routes?
I bought the trike in order to be able to attend the three most important weekly activities in my life, a) Quaker Meeting, b) Buddhist teachings and meetings, c) Iyengar Yoga classes.
I live in Arbor Village which is right next to the Bedford Centre.
The Quaker Meeting house is in Gordon Terrace near to the Joe Slovo flyover of Smith St. In Kensington I use Cumberland Rd thereafter I go along side roads through Bez Valley to get to it. It takes about 40 minutes in both directions.
The Buddhist Centre is near to Jeppe Boys and my yoga classes are near to Jeppe Girls. My lifts to these two venues are still operating so I have not needed to use my trike but it would basically be a straight run from the bottom of Sovereign along Langerman and then Roberts Ave in both cases.
Q. What is your advice to those who are nervous or afraid to cycle?
Use side roads wherever you can but but be extra vigilant with regard to the road surface.
After my accident in the 70s, when that car turned across me on Loch Avenue, fearing for my life in future possible unfortunate interactions with motorists, I reluctantly stopped cycling. In the early 90‘s I had to stop driving a car because of my MS. I was reduced to getting lifts from friends to things which were too far away to be walkable. I toyed with the idea of resuming cycling but was put off by two things: the MS damage to the nerves of my leg muscles which meant that, I had reduced stamina, and my fear of traffic when on a bicycle.
Then I thought of a trike which has a larger physical presence on the road than a bicycle which lessened my traffic fears somewhat but my reduced stamina remained a problem. The growing availability of electric bikes gave me hope for reduced demands on my leg muscles and electric trikes were available. I was only left with the fear of traffic blocking me from returning to cycling.
When in doubt I consult the I-Ching and I got an auspicious hexagram in response to my question on whether to get an electric trike, so I bought one. Having not ridden a bike for over 20 years and certainly not an electric one as well as having lost some bodily coordination because of my MS I knew I would need a fair bit of practice before venturing out into the traffic. Luckily Arbor Village has fairly extensive grounds and very little traffic besides the residents moving in and out so I was able to practice riding my trike in the safe environment provided by the village. I was still cautious about venturing out into the traffic though but was pushed into it when my usual lift to Quaker Meeting was unavailable. I had already plotted the route that I would take using side roads wherever possible and I got there, cautiously, in about 40 minutes compared to 15 minutes in a car.
Q. How do you feel when you are on your bicycle?
Happy and empowered, but having only traveled by car for many years I had forgotten the appalling condition of the side roads if you are on a bike, i.e. without shock absorbers.
Q. Do other members of your family commute by bicycle?
My son who lives in Reading and works in London used to commute, once in London, using a uni-cycle. I am not at all sure why he stopped doing so.
Q. What do you think it would take to get more Jo’burgers to consider cycling instead of driving (to work, etc)?
A cyclist friendly environment. The best way to create that would be by creating cycle ways. I lived in Bulawayo for two years in the early 80‘s and regularly cycled to work using their excellent cycle ways.
Q. What role has cycling played in your management of your MS?
None up until now.
Remaining physically active is very important for me and everybody really. Even though I have relapsing remitting MS I have, throughout my life, tried to remain physically active to the best of my ability. I have been an Iyengar Yoga practitioner since 1986. Prior to that I my main activity was road running which became impossible due to my as yet undiagnosed MS. It is my yoga practice, amongst other things, which has enabled me, although somewhat disabled by my MS, to return to cycling.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Rory! If you would like to get in touch with Rory, to visit him and chat about cycling, or go for a ride with him from his retirement village, please contact JUCA, we’d be happy to put you in touch.